Thursday, June 14, 2012

How to Cheat with the Bionx

I made a big show last week about how the Bionx is not cheating. Having used it with various assist levels for about 80 miles now, I would like to clarify:

You can TOTALLY cheat on the Bionx, if you want to.  I've done it.  You see, in addition to the 4 levels of assist - which provide a torque boost of between 35% and 300% -- there is a little red button called the throttle. Press this, and the bike zips along at up to 20 mph without the need for any pedaling.

When I first got the Bionx, I wanted to really push the system and see how much assistance was possible. I donned my heart rate monitor, put on my work clothes, and endeavored to get to work with as little perspiration as possible.  Along the way, I kept my finger on the throttle button pretty much the whole way, pedaling (on the highest assist level) perhaps 5-10% of the time.

It normally takes me almost an hour to bike the 13 miles to work, with an average heart rate of around 140.  This time it took 45 minutes. My average heart rate was 87 -- I didn't even get into "Zone 1". And I felt like a total schmuck.

For all my big talk about not cheating, holding the throttle most of the way TOTALLY feels like cheating. I didn't break a sweat! I was a lazy bum on my commuter bike and I didn't get a workout at all!

The entire Asian world sees biking mainly as a mode of transportation. There are 100 million e-bikes in China! But we Americans tend to always equate bikes with exercising, and we have this ingrained belief that if we don't sweat, it's cheating. Intellectually, I know this is silly. Biking doesn't HAVE to be exercising, and throttling to work is not "cheating" because there are no rules. I just want to get to work.

I know this. I have argued this. But even I don't really, truly believe it. I don't know if this is a testament to the power of cultural bias or what, but when I'm using my bike as a moped and getting to work without sweat, I don't feel good or smug or anything like that. I feel like an asshole.

So I will endeavor to NOT just keep my thumb on the throttle. It is totally possible to get a great workout in with the Bionx, and in fact on Saturday I did just that: a 30 mile ride in 90 degree weather, with an average heart rate of 150 over two hours! For the flats and downhills, I kept the assist on the bare minimum and hardly ever throttled, and only turned the assist up on the inclines of over 2% or so. And even with that assist, when the incline got close to 5%, I got a real workout – my max HR was 173! The only difference between hills with assist and hills without assist is that I can actually DO the hills with assist, as opposed to getting off and pushing (which is what I used to do).

And it’s still really nice to know that even when it’s hot and I’ve been riding for hours and the only way home is 7 miles uphill, it will never suck. It will always be fun, and invigorating, and in many ways, kind of magical. Here are some pictures from Saturday's ride:

Iwo Jima Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

Gay Pride Parade in Dupont Circle